A young boy’s part in history

The State funeral of Queen Elizabeth II will be the first witnessed in this country for 57 years. The following article is a personal link back to that important moment in British history in 1965, first published by me after the funeral of Margaret Thatcher in 2013.

Ken Joynes was just fifteen years old when he not only witnessed but actually played a part in one the nation’s most significant events of the 20th Century. Ken is a friend of mine and has kindly agreed to tell his story in his own words :ken joynes

Sir Winston Churchill’s Funeral

Somebody asked me recently, did I have an invitation to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.

Well, no.

“Oh”. They said, “only you did have one to Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral”.

Which was perfectly true. I did.

I was fifteen years of age and only recently just left school and working in the West End of London for Pathé News in Wardour Street, Soho. W1. Pathé News was the product of Associated British Pathé, part of Associated British Cinemas, or ABC as most people would have known them.

It felt like such a big deal to be working in the West End. Travelling up to Waterloo from the suburbs, and then taking the Bakerloo line to Piccadilly Circus. Emerging from the underground to the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue held at once an air of energy and business that I was now a part of. A small but vital cog in the machinery of what makes London the greatest city on Earth. Light years away from the banality of the suburbs.

Turning left into Wardour Street I would cross, after a few yards, Old Compton Steet, where in recent  years many a Gay Parade would start and finish.  After passing St Anne’s Court I would find the offices of Pathé News where I worked in the Cutting Rooms. This is where the editing and splicing of the exposed film would take place. In addition to the various production rooms and offices there was a small cinema where the “rushes”, or first proofs would be shown to production staff and executives before final release. The warm and reassuring voice of Bob Danvers Walker, ( the Alan Dedicoat of his day) was a familiar sound in those corridors.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

On one particular occasion a request went around that many additional personnel would be required to be in attendance for the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. To follow the cortege, to be at St Paul’s Cathedral and onwards to Waterloo Station. On this occasion I was not to be left out. Never having been on location before.

So it was on a bitterly cold morning, January 30th. 1965, I left home particularly early to catch the train to Waterloo. I had been told that I was to position myself to the right hand side of the main steps to the Cathedral. At either end of the steps there is a large plinth on which stands a lantern of cast iron. I was to put myself inconspicuously beside this plinth, there to receive the can of exposed film and to take it with all haste to the processing laboratories. I arrived at St. Paul’s well before time but there was already a great hubbub of people fussing and preparing in readiness for this great event. This bleak and wintery morning was made marginly bearable by the fact that standing alongside in the road, St.Paul’s Church Yard, was the generator lorry. The whole of the back of this lorry was taken up with the generators that power the massive movie cameras. These generators knock out quite a bit of heat, and so a colleague (another young office messenger) and I were able to sit and wait for our moment of glory on the footplate of the lorry enjoying some relative warmth.

Royal Train

Well the moment did come, I was given a film can and raced back to the processing labs, (which were further down Wardour Street near Peter Street), probably by taxi, and handed the can over to one of the two fearsome ladies, Reen and Queenie, who ran the labs. Having fully discharged my duties for the day I made my way back to Waterloo Station not just to return home but to witness the coffin of this remarkable statesman being transferred to the Royal train which would take Sir Winston’s body to the Oxfordshire town of Bladon, near Blenheim Palace, for burial. Blenheim Palace being Winston’s family’s ancestral home.

It was working for Pathé News in the 1960s that taught me my way around London.  London is such a vast city and can at first seem a little daunting. So my advice would be, for a day in London select just two sites to visit, and if possible walk from one to the other. On the route you will probably stumble across some other well known sites or points of interest or just somewhere to sit and stare.

Ken Joynes

Thanks Ken.

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